I'm amused at the advice I frequently get in comments on blog posts and emails: "Stop thinking so much, Brian. Believe in God. Have faith in your guru. Meditate and experience the truth that has eluded you."
These people don't understand that I view spirituality and mysticism as a science. Always have. Likely always will. If I wanted a religion, I had one in my brief career as a Catholic.
I was attracted to the Sant Mat teachings, Radha Soami Satsang Beas version, because they were billed as a "science of the soul." Cool.
Spirituality and science wrapped up in a nice tidy package. No need to leave your logic, reason, love of facts, respect for evidence, and such at the religious door. I could have the best of both worlds, material science and spiritual mysticism.
That desire hasn't changed.
What evolved over the forty-plus years I've been engaged in daily meditation and devotion to various spiritual teachers was a clearer understanding of what science is and isn't, when applied to the investigation of what, if anything, lies beyond everyday reality.
I found that even though many people talk about making spirituality into a science, they don't really mean it. This is just a marketing tool aimed at enticing scientifically-minded seekers of truth into what is really a faith-based religion. Or perhaps even a cult.
In science, questioning is good; skepticism is good; demand for evidence is good; investigating shaky assertions is good; challenging authority is good. In religion, by and large, these things are bad.
Consider what happened recently when some researchers claimed they'd found evidence of a particle going faster than light, something forbidden by Einstein's theory of relativity. Other scientists didn't immediately bow down at their feet and worship this new revelation about how nature operates.
Quite the opposite.
Potential flaws in the experimental design began to be pointed out. Doubting questions were directed at the researchers, who addressed them. Eventually the skeptics were proven right. The faster than light discovery was found to be spurious. Science progressed by not wrongly moving forward.
This is also how I look upon spiritual science.
Claims regarding this or that being true about God, soul, spirit, heaven, or whatever, can't be accepted as true without a lot of questions being asked, a lot of evidence being provided, a lot of give-and-take happening between the person claiming to know something about a supernatural realm and others wondering whether what he or she says is credible.
Now, some supposed experiencers of the divine consider that whatever they've experienced must be true, because, gosh, they experienced it! They're wrong.
Those researchers who claimed to have discovered particles moving faster than light also had an experience: of evidence that seemed to prove that they'd made an astonishing discovery. But their experience was mistaken. Without all the skeptical questioning, the flaws in their experiment wouldn't have been found.
Same applies to spiritual science, to spiritual experiments.
While its true that the results of meditation, miracles, visions, and such can't be quantified or as precisely described, those claiming to have discovered a spiritual truth still can have their claims put to the test. Questioned. Discussed. Verified. Investigated. Delved into.
When someone who has had a supposed spiritual or mystical experience shuts up and refuses to talk about it, that's a strong sign that skepticism is deserved. Truth isn't something to be ashamed of, to be hidden. When I hear "I can't tell you what happened to me; it's personal," my bullshit detector starts ringing, loudly.
Understand: naturally I agree that personal subjective experiences can't be accurately described. Each of us knows this, because how we perceive the world is ours, not anyone else's. There's no compulsion to provide evidence of love, hate, awe, anger, happiness, or any other human experience.
But if you claim that your experience is of a spiritual realm that is objectively real, this changes things. Now you had better come up with some convincing evidence that what you're saying is true. That's how science works, and I'm a strong believer in spiritual science.
What do you think of the words from Lao Tzu when he said,"The Tao that can be explained in not the Tao"?
Posted by: Shawn Tedrow | November 01, 2012 at 07:40 AM
Shawn, I like those words.
There are many translations of them, but the gist behind them is that Tao is not a thing, but an everchanging neverending process. The universe "Tao's." There isn't a Tao, though many people mistakenly look upon Tao as some sort of God.
It's like trying to explain a flowing river. Once you try to capture it in fixed description, you've missed the reality of it.
Posted by: Brian Hines | November 01, 2012 at 09:04 AM
Not that I am a Taoist, but I find it interesting that you default to that I may have been referring to Tao as being a God as we humans envision. When one even thinks of the word God, that is not Tao. Chapter four of the Tao Te Ching mentions;
I don't know who gave birth to it.
It is older than God.
And why is it older than God? Because with the word God, its origin is a human attempt and definition or a mental image of trying to explain the unexplainable. It is an attempt to bring the cognitious unknowable into an image of knowing or into the human realm that is debatable.
We look out to the universe and we see the physical space and mass that illogically and logically has no end. Chaung Tzu likens this human limited mental image as being a frog living in a well, He said, "Can a frog in a well know what the ocean is?". Though a frog in a well cannot know or scientifically prove what an ocean is, it does not remove the fact that the ocean exist. Our Science cannot prove what is beyond our mind to know but it does not change objective reality from existing.
Faith in a mental image of a God-entity is absurd. But naked faith, not clothed in mental images, can have its place in the human experience.
Posted by: Shawn Tedrow | November 01, 2012 at 11:05 AM
Shawn, I didn't mean to suggest that you thought Tao = God. This is just a common mistake. I did think that because some people say "God is mysterious" and Lao Tzu also says "Tao is mysterious" (in so many words), the inability to describe God accurately could be illogically used to critique my love of Taoism, since I often disparage the inability of God-believers to clearly describe their God. To me, a process and a thing are very different. You seem to agree.
Posted by: Brian Hines | November 01, 2012 at 11:17 AM
Tao, God, Emptiness, Void, Nothingness, etc. are all dualistic wordage to point to the non-conceptual, non-duality.
So, in dualistic terms it's ok to write:
Posted by: Roger | November 01, 2012 at 12:16 PM